Phoenix rejects Black Lives Matter, law enforcement murals downtown; lawsuit planned

FILE: A person holds a Black Lives Matter sign during a vigil for Manuel Ellis, a black man whose death while in Tacoma Police custody was recently found to be a homicide, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiners Office, near the site of his

The Phoenix City Council denied a request to install a "Black Lives Matter" street mural downtown after another group sought to create a pro-law enforcement mural in response.

"Based on existing regulations governing allowable markings in the street, as well as overriding concerns with safety, risks and federal guidelines for markings on streets, the City of Phoenix cannot accommodate your request," read a letter signed by city manager Ed Zuercher to the mural planner. "...installation of a mural, or any other non-standard markings, on a city not currently allowed."

The letter was posted on Twitter by Phoenix city councilman Sal DiCiccio on Sept. 9.

The proposed mural would have included the "Black Lives Matter" statement along with painted images of Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez and John Lewis. The proposal also aims to have the mural near Talking Stick Resort Area, Phoenix City Hall or the Arizona State Capitol.

Community members in Phoenix requested approval for the project and had planned to meet with the city's Street Transportation Department to address location and costs as well as any safety or liability concerns for the mural in a city meeting on Sept. 2. The agenda item pertaining to the mural project, however, was withdrawn, and the city did not provide a reason.

Cities across America, including New York City, Chicago and Minneapolis have approved similar street murals in support of Black Lives Matter.

Read the full report here. 

Law enforcement mural requested in response

Former Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Mark Spencer requested permission for the national conservative group Judicial Watch to place a mural in front of the downtown police headquarters with the statement “No one is above the law,” in all capital letters.

Judicial Watch was hoping the city would give its proposal the same consideration as it was giving the Black Lives Matter project, Spencer said Sept. 10.

Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher sent similar letters to both groups Wednesday denying the requests because of “overriding concerns with safety, risks and federal guidelines for markings on streets.”

Lawsuit planned after Black Lives Matter Mural rejected

Black Lives Matter organizer Gizette Knight said her group plans to sue the city over the denied request. She argued the city has not proved that street murals pose a safety concern.

Spencer said the city’s decision was “reasonable,” adding that he was a police officer for 25 years and understood the safety issues related.

Mural criticism

The Black Phoenix Organizing Collective spoke out against the Black Lives Matter mural, calling it an "empty gesture."

These city murals are an example of the co-optation of protest and resistance that does nothing to serve the people who need it most. Paint on the street won’t stop cops from using Black people for target practice. While adding insult to injury, the proposed mural would exist between two historic sundown towns—towns where Black people weren’t welcome, and where Black people are still subject to police violence, deprived of shelter, and the ability to determine our own lives.

If Phoenix believes that Black lives matter, it must fulfill and exceed the basic needs of our Black communities, instead of wasting time, energy, and resources on self-congratulatory projects. In order to live safe and dignified lives in Phoenix, Black people demand structural change. We don’t want symbolic solidarity—we demand action.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.